I had actually come home early for once. Over the course of several weeks, I had been staying out with friends until two, three, four o’clock in the morning. I was in my early twenties and had just finished college. I was working as a graphic artist, paying off school loans, and trying to figure out what to do with myself long-term. On weekends, I had started hanging out with an old friend and his new friends, staying out for most of the weekend.
This particular Saturday, I was tired, both physically and emotionally. I had been in church for several years now, going from a strict KJV-Only fundamentalist church to a strict Southern Baptist pseudo-fundamentalist church and then onto several experiments and dabbling with everything from conservative Presbyterianism to Episcopalianism to Buddhism. I kept seeing a lot of religion, but very little spirituality, very little in the way of interaction with God. There were rules to follow, ideas to assent to, but no substantial connection to Jesus. Admittedly, some of that was on me for the general attitude I had, but much of it was the realization that it is very easy for people to set up a system of rules and ideas that fit their worldview and live into it, welcoming those who agree, dismissing those who don’t. I never seemed to fit, never felt like I was wanted or accepted.
So, I walked away from church. I made sure the alarm clock was turned off and slept until almost noon. I got up and had breakfast for lunch and spent the afternoon at a Barnes and Noble scribbling the beginnings of a detective story in a notebook.
For the better part of the next year, year and half, I was persona non religioso, not in attendance. I would go to special events like Christmas or Easter but otherwise, Sundays were for sleeping in and reading and hiking and bookstores and coffee and anything but church. I had become an agnostic. I believed in a deity out there somewhere but assumed we as human beings were too dense to really understand it. No more church, no more expectations, no more feeling like an outsider at an insider party. Again, some of these issues were my own personal issues, born of insecurities that needed ironing out but some of these were legitimate issues. Churches do tend to be insular, circling the wagons around certain people and certain ideas that are “The Truth” as they see it. Added together with a few other intangibles and I walked away from the church.
I didn’t stay away of course. In time I learned a few things about myself and about church life and found some workarounds until I could deal with the issues. But one thing it did teach me was there are some ideas, traditions, ways of looking at God and life that we should consider walking away from. I think if something points to itself or away from God, we should consider walking away. When we do things that we have always done because we have always done them, rather than because they are a means of sharing the gospel and reaching out to others, we should walk away. When we do things just because they are becoming popular in the common culture or even in church culture and they point away from God, we should walk away. In other words, if it points us in any direction other than toward God, toward the Way of Jesus that shows us the path of God, we should walk away.
And when we walk away from it, we should be walking toward God. Not finding another thing to point us in another false direction but finding our way toward God.